Two-tailed Swallowtail

For my butterfly fans:

Swallowtails are the largest and most well known of our butterflies. They are found throughout the world, mainly in the tropics. Swallowtails are usually brightly colored. There are around twenty five swallowtail species in North America alone. When people visualize a butterfly, a monarch or swallowtail are often what comes to mind.

The two-tailed swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata) occurs in Western North America from British Columbia to Mexico and east to central Nebraska and central Texas. This large butterfly (3 1/2″ to 5″) has the characteristic projections from the hind wings that identify most swallowtails. Its bright yellow and black wing pattern makes the two-tailed highly visible as it flits from flower to flower. The hind wings have red and blue markings along the margins. These “eyes” can fool a predator into attacking the rear of the butterfly, giving the butterfly a chance to escape.

Recall that the butterfly has four life stages: egg, larva or caterpillar, pupa or chrysalis, and adult. The spherical eggs of swallowtails are laid singly, usually on the plants utilized by two-tailed caterpillars for food – ash trees, chokecherry trees and hop trees among others. The caterpillar has horn-like projections containing scent glands that give off a strong, disagreeable odor at the back of its head. This scent may discourage predators. The caterpillars will curve the edges of a leaf inward and weave a silken mat in the shelter thus formed. On this soft mat the two-tailed caterpillar can rest when not ravenously eating.

When the full-grown swallowtail has selected a place to form its chrysalis, it fastens its hindmost feet with silk and soon sheds its skin becoming a pupa. It is in this form that two-tailed swallowtails will hibernate over the winter.

Adult two-taileds drink nectar from thistles, milkweeds, California buckeye, lilacs, poplars and willows as well as other plants. After mating the female lays her eggs and the swallowtail life cycle begins anew. 

This swallowtail was photographed on one of the outbuilding in our yard (Lookout CA).

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4 Responses to Two-tailed Swallowtail

  1. Pingback: Swallowtail on Teasel | The Nature Niche

  2. Pingback: Pale Swallowtail | The Nature Niche

  3. Lin says:

    That is JUST BEAUTIFUL, Chris…and the background of your 100+ year old outbuilding makes a perfect photograph!!! from one of your butterfly fans…

    • gingkochris says:

      Thanks, Lin! Funny, at first I waited for the swallowtail to move to a more “scenic, translate green, location. Eventually I realized that the weathered boards were appropriate in their own way.

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